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Publication #FCS8703

Facts about Calcium1

L. B. Bobroff2

Why do we need calcium?

Calcium is the major mineral found in our bones and teeth. Along with phosphorus and other nutrients, calcium builds the hard structure that makes bones and teeth strong. We also need calcium for proper muscle and nerve function, blood clotting, and other body processes. These functions are so critical that calcium is taken from the bones to maintain blood calcium if dietary calcium is inadequate.

What happens if we don't get enough calcium?

We need calcium all through our lives to support our bones and teeth, and other body functions. We build most of the structure of our bones before we reach 30 years of age. If we don’t get enough calcium to make bones strong when we’re young, we will be at risk for osteoporosis as we get older.

Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones are porous and weak. People with osteoporosis have a high risk of bone fractures. Hip fractures often result in loss of independence, so keeping bones strong is an important health goal.

How do I know if I am at risk for osteoporosis?

You may be at a higher risk for osteoporosis if you:

  • are white or Asian;

  • are small boned and thin;

  • have a family history of osteoporosis;

  • are a post-menopausal woman and don't take estrogen; or

  • take certain medications; ask a pharmacist for more information.

How much calcium do we need?

The following table lists recommended daily intakes of calcium:

Life Stage

Calcium

(mg/day)

Children, ages 1-3

700

Children, ages 4-8

1,000

Youth, ages 9-18

1,300

Men, ages 19-70

1,000

Men, 70+

1,200

Women, ages 19-50

1,000

Women, ages 51+

1,200

Women who are pregant or breastfeeding

Ages 14-18

Ages 19-50

1,300

1,000

mg = milligrams

How can we get enough calcium?

For many Americans, dairy foods are the main sources of dietary calcium. Low-fat (1%) and fat-free dairy foods are recommended to limit intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. Lactose-free milk and yogurt can be helpful for people who have trouble digesting lactose (the sugar in milk), but they often are able to drink small amounts of milk with no ill effects. Since cheese contains no lactose, it can be eaten by persons with lactose intolerance as well.

Figure 1. 

For many Americans, dairy foods are the main sources of dietary calcium. Low-fat (1%) and fat-free dairy foods are recommended to limit intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.


Credit:

LotusHead, http://bit.ly/AxQAgr


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 2. 
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

People who do not eat dairy foods may have a hard time getting the calcium they need. Non-dairy food sources of calcium include calcium-fortified soy beverages, orange juice, and grains. Deep green leafy vegetables like kale, collards, and broccoli, and some types of tofu are also sources of calcium. Here are some foods and the amount of calcium they contain:

Table 2. 

Food

Calcium

(mg/serving)

Tofu, raw, firm, 2 ounces*

110

Yogurt, low-fat, fruit, 1 cup

200

Milk, low-fat (1%), 1 cup

300

Fortified soy beverage, 1 cup

250

Fortified orange juice, ¾ cup

150

Cheddar cheese, 50% less fat, 1 ounce

200

Cottage cheese, 1%, 1 cup

140

Collard greens, cooked and drained, ½ cup

175

Kale, cooked and drained, ½ cup

50

Broccoli, cooked and drained, ½ cup

30

Sardines, canned in oil, with bones, 3 ounces

325

mg = milligrams

*Check label for tofu made with calcium.

Figure 3. 

People who do not eat dairy foods can choose dark leafy greens, canned sardines and salmon, and calcium-fortified foods to get the calcium they need.


Credit:

InPraiseofSardines, CC 2.0 http://bit.ly/AtqvDD


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 4. 

Salmon is another non-dairy food that contains calcium. These salmon croquettes are made from canned salmon including the crushed bones, which are an excellent source of calcium.


Credit:

jypsygen, CC 2.0 http://bit.ly/wW9lBB


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

What about supplements?

Women at risk for osteoporosis may need calcium supplements as part of their preventive care. If you are concerned about your bone health, speak to your doctor about your need for calcium. If you take a calcium supplement, it is better to take small amounts with meals rather than all at once. If you use a supplement, do not get more than 2,500 mg of calcium per day from food and supplements together. This is the upper limit for persons 19-50 years; those over age 50 should not get more than 2,000 mg total daily calcium.

It is recommended that we take calcium supplements that contain vitamin D, which is needed to absorb calcium. Do not take more than the recommended dosage on the bottle unless your doctor tells you to do so.

Where can I get more information?

The Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) agent at your local Extension office may have written information and nutrition classes for you to attend. Also, your doctor or a registered dietitian (RD) can provide reliable information to you.

Reliable nutrition information may also be found on the Internet at the following sites:

For more information about vitamin D, see the UF/IFAS Extension publication “Facts about Vitamin D” at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy207.

For more information about osteoporosis, see the UF/IFAS Extension publication “Prevent Osteoporosis: Catch the Silent Thief” at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy469 (en español: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy997).

Footnotes

1.

La versión en español de este documento es Datos Sobre el Calcio (FCS8703Span). This document is FCS8703, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. First published: July 2001. Revised March 2012. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Linda B. Bobroff, PhD, RD, LD/N, professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.